The topic of this article is going to seem to most as way outside my normal stomping grounds of economics and finance, but to those who know me well it will not be so strange.Â I am somewhat of a fitness buff.Â Having started weightlifting in high school, it has been a habit that I have kept with me ever since.Â â€œStrong mind, strong bodyâ€ is a bit of a personal mantra of mine that I hope to be able to stick with throughout my life.
One of the earliest things you learn in weight lifting and nutrition is how little an impact the actual exercise component plays in human physiology.Â While being active is certainly important, your typical gym rat will only expend a couple hundred more calories per day due to their exercise.Â This has a minimal impact in creating a caloric deficit and reducing fat in the body.Â Lifting weights really only serves one goal, to stimulate your muscles to grow and become stronger.Â For evidence of this, just take a look at the people competing in power lifting and strength competitions.Â None of them will come close to winning a Mr. Olympia competition, but Mr. Olympia certainly wonâ€™t be able to pull a transport truck engine 100 feet either.Â Both, while very strong, have different goals and they adjust their diets towards those ends.
In order to lose weight you have to diet, period.Â There is no way around this.Â The question becomes how to effectively do this.Â To that end there has been no shortage of literature and fads that come out on an annual basis.Â Our bodies are the culmination of hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary progress.Â Youâ€™d think by now we would have figured out how to eat properly.Â Well, we did and itâ€™s only recently that we have forgotten what our bodies really need to be lean, strong and healthy.
The effects of Morgan Spurlockâ€™s film â€œSupersize Meâ€ have spurred on the low-fat, lean meat and high carb diet.Â Vegetarianism and veganism have exploded in popularity all over the west.Â However humans, by and large, have never eaten this way and our evolution has adapted us to an entirely different kind of diet.Â For a good debunking of Spurlockâ€™s many (though not all) spurious claims about fast food I urge my fellow readers to watch a movie called â€œFat Headâ€.Â The producer, Tom Naughton, does an excellent job at breaking down the phony science behind the â€œlow fatâ€ diet craze, the many myths about cholesterol as well as the misconceptions about saturated fats and other fatty foods.Â Tomâ€™s brother just so happens to be a fan of Austrian economics and has recently written a pretty darn good summary of the Austrian Business Cycle Theory.
At the end of the movie Tom does something that many would consider seriously insane, he goes on a saturated fat binge, eating nothing but steak, sausages, cheese, eggs, coconut oil, cream and everything else weâ€™re told by the government and mainstream dieticians to avoid like the plague.Â The result?Â Tom not only lost weight, he lost fat as well.Â His HDL count (â€œgoodâ€ cholesterol) went up, LDL (â€œbadâ€ cholesterol) went down and a number of other health indicators actually improved.Â None worsened.Â This is the exact opposite of what mainstream nutrition would tell you would happen.Â How can this be?
In recent decades there has been a surge of diets such as Protein Power, Atkins, Paleo and Primal that have had stupendous results for those that go on them.Â They all work for a very simple reason; they all strictly control the intake of carbohydrates in to the body.Â The recommended daily allowance of carbohydrate intake by most health authorities is 300 grams.Â In Fat Head, Tom restricted his carbs to about 100 grams.Â This is the secret, because carbs do something to your body that no other energy source (fat or protein) does, they raise your blood sugar levels.Â Your body canâ€™t tell the difference between a potato and a mound of sugar, the digestive response is basically the same.Â In fact, whole wheat breads score about the same on the glycemic (which measures how close a food is to pure glucose) index as refined sugar!
What happens after a heaping helpful of carbs is your body mobilizes the systems needed to deal with the rising blood-sugar levels.Â A major part of this is insulin, which transports energy in to your muscles and fat cells for storage.Â Thereâ€™s a sequence in Fat Head that does a great a great job at explaining how this all functions.Â And so a major part of losing weight, and specifically fat, will always consist of controlling your insulin levels.Â If youâ€™ve ever noticed that you suddenly get extremely tired at the office every day at around 2 or 3pm then you know what insulin does.Â This is your insulin levels crashing after a carb-rich lunch.
During a high fat, low carb diet your body makes a few changes to itself.Â It sweeps away the hormones and other compounds in the blood that are designed to deal with carbs and replaces them with compounds designed to deal with fat.Â Once you have switched over to this state, called ketosis, your body starts looking towards your fat reserves rather than muscles in order to deal with any caloric deficit you have.Â A caloric deficit is defined as when you expend more calories in a day than you consume, and this is what we want in order to lose fat.Â But it only works right when you first train your body to look to fat for energy, which is what happens during a low-carb diet.
Here in Ontario, there is a company called â€œDr. Bernsteinâ€ that specializes in helping obese people lose weight.Â I have personally witnessed the results in two of my friends, who each lost staggering amounts of fat weight in under a year.Â Of course, going right back to your high-carb diet will only bring the weight back again.Â And so one must make a low carb diet a way of life, though the extremes followed by Dr. Bernstein arenâ€™t something even they would recommend you do forever.Â On a low-carb diet, males can realize higher levels of testosterone and both males and females will benefit from higher levels of growth hormone, which is essential in maintaining bone density and a youthful look in later years.
The movie Fat Head does a great job at showing how the low-fat diet craze is just another government entrenched program (likely financed in part by grain, soy and corn farming companies) and we shouldnâ€™t be surprised that its effects were the opposite of what was hoped for.Â It is a diet built on foods that we as a species havenâ€™t been eating for even 1% of our history.Â For more information on this I recommend at the very least watching Fat Head.Â For those that want more technical information on low-carb, ketogenic diets then I would suggest reading â€œThe Ketogenic Dietâ€ by Lyle McDonald.Â For the truth about sugar, that seems to be the actual culprit for the westâ€™s health problems readers can search around for Robert Lustig, MD.Â His groundbreaking research is sure to amaze and inform.